Thursday, November 27, 2014


One year ago today, on Thanksgiving Day of 2013, I had my first allergic reaction. Ben and I were hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever, for my mom, his parents, and one of our friends. We had spend most of the day cooking. We'd all shared a wonderful meal. We were all full and happy. After dessert, the guys headed out into camp to do some chores for some friends that were away for the holiday.

 About a half an hour after we had finished eating, just as we were starting cleanup, I started to feel itchy. It started in my hands and built quickly. As I looked at them, they got mottled and red. They started swelling. I had to pull off my wedding ring, and then my watch. And then the back of my neck started to itch. I excused myself to my upstairs bathroom. I saw red welts started to raise there too.

 And then my stomach. I lifted my shirt and saw red welts there too. And then my stomach seized up. It was a good thing that I was already in the bathroom, because I don't know that I could have made it very far, with the force that that attack came on. I had wave after wave of intense stomach cramps and diarrhea. At some point, I also started vomiting in the wastebasket.

 I have no idea how long this went on before someone came up to check on me. I was in a lot of pain. I knew that I was having an allergic reaction and was even with-it enough to have determined that it was probably a reaction to the pistachio dessert I had eaten. My mother-in-law called my sister-in-law, who is a nurse, and she recommended taking some Benadryl to stop the reaction and putting me an a shower to clean me up. It seemed reasonable, so we did exactly that. After all, I'd never had an allergic reaction before.

 None of us had any idea how severe the reaction was. I took the Benadryl and got in the shower. Everyone else went back downstairs. I was hit with a wave of dizziness so strong that I ended up on the shower floor. I have no idea how long I was there. I just know that in the end, the only reason I literally crawled out was because my stomach started cramping again and I really, really didn't want to poop in my shower.

 I managed to get to my toilet, but after that, I basically passed out. And again, I have no idea how long I was there.... but that's how my family found me, some period of time later, naked, soaking wet, hunching unconscious on the toilet, bowels cramping. I cannot think of a single time in my life when I have been in worse shape.

 They managed to get me into bed and, I imagine, retreat to the kitchen to freak out. I blessedly missed the freaking out part, as I was unconscious.

 I do vividly remember the next day, during which every move I made was excruciatingly painful. I felt like I had been run over by a Mack truck. Maybe two or three times.

 So that was my first allergic reaction. I came away from it thinking, "Wow, pistachios suck." The next time I saw my general practitioner, I told her about it and she prescribed me an Epipen. But nothing about my daily life changed.

 Meanwhile, I continued to fight intense migraines. Two months before this allergic reaction, I had been pulled from full-time work due to severe migraines. Even though I was under the care of a neurologist and was taking three medications daily to prevent migraines, I was still having severe migraines at least six out of every seven days. My neurologist and my general practitioner agreed: I was not medically able to work full-time. So at the time of my first allergic reaction, I was still on medical leave for migraines, but basically steeling myself for the fact that I would not be going back to teaching. I did not even stop to think that the allergic reaction and the migraines might be related in some way.

 Several months later, maybe in March (?), I was out at Pizza Hut with some friends. I didn't eat anything that I hadn't had a million times before, although there was some serious carb-loading. But by the time I made it home from Lafayette, my body was freaking out. I was itching out of my skin, and I had to race to the bathroom as soon as I made it in the door. I knew better than to take Benadryl this time, but I was up for most of the night in agony. I had no idea what had happened to cause such a reaction. This was when I started considering the idea of seeing a doctor about food allergies.

 In May, our family went on an overnight campout. Before heading out, I sprayed myself and the kids down with bugspray. By a half an hour afterwards, I was in complete agony. I was covered in angry red itchy welts, and I was sweating out of my skin. My stomach was cramping mercilessly, and I spent more time in the bathroom of the lodge than at our campout site. I thought it must be something I had eaten; I didn't even think about the bugspray.

 It was that incident that finally convinced me to go see Dr. Benzinger at Indy Health and Wellness. He ran a diagnostic panel on me that identified my food allergies (yeast, cheese, peanuts, pistachios, corn, wheat, and mushrooms at first, though I've earned some of those back) and my chemical sensitivities. He's helped to figure out a diet that I can live with. After getting my food allergies under control, my migraines have improved tremendously--way more than medication could ever have done alone. For the first time in 15 years, I feel like I'm starting to get my life back instead of watching it slowly slip away.

 So even though I didn't eat stuffing, or corn, or gravy, or green bean casserole made with mushroom soup and fried onions, or light fluffy rolls this Thanksgiving, I am still incredibly thankful. I am thankful for this journey of learning about my allergies that I have had over the past year, because it has put me on the path to better health than I have been able to even dream of in a really, really long time. I am thankful for Dr. Benzinger and for the friends that sent me to him. I am thankful for Ben's love and support through this journey. And I am thankful for all the opportunities that I'm going to have with my family as I continue to feel better and better!

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